my coworker quit as soon as I became his boss

A reader writes:

I started at my current company in a junior role, but thanks to my previous experience, I was able to get up to speed with my responsibilities and do them well very quickly. I got a lot of great feedback and became fast friends with my boss and colleagues.

Shortly after I started, Fergus joined our team as the same junior role as me. He was noticeably very anxious and insecure, and he struggled with getting the basics down. The job includes giving feedback on others’ work, and I noticed that I kept having to ask him to fix the same basic issues (like spelling errors) constantly. I didn’t shy away from giving him feedback directly but professionally – the same way I give feedback to everyone else – and while no one else in the company seems to have a problem with me, he would get angry and defensive when I critiqued his work. He was hot and cold socially; sometimes he was kind and funny, but other times withdrawn and sullen. I made an effort to invite him to events outside of work, and invited him to coffees with our other colleagues, in the hopes that being friends could improve our working relationship. But I don’t think he made any friends in the company. I eventually complained to our boss about both his work and his attitude after the amount of time I was spending pointing out his errors became unsustainable and didn’t seem to be yielding results.

Over time, I was promoted from my junior role to a more senior one, and then our boss announced that he was leaving the company. I applied for our boss’ job and I got it. Fergus abruptly took the next day off and emailed HR his resignation (without talking to our boss or me). The timing of his resignation seems too immediate and sudden to feel like a coincidence.

Alison, I’m having so much trouble figuring out what happened and if I could have prevented it. I’ve spoken to multiple people about the situation who agree it’s a distinct possibility that Fergus didn’t like having so much direct, non-sugarcoated feedback come from a woman, especially one who was on the same level as him at the time, and especially one who was younger than him. I’ve also wondered if I should have been gentler when I was giving him feedback – but I didn’t want to condescend to him by assuming he couldn’t take it, and his work had so many obvious errors that I felt that letting them slide would have negatively impacted the quality of our products.

Worst of all, I have to manage him for the next two weeks. It feels like he found me so intolerable that he didn’t think it was even worth giving working with me a shot, so I’m not sure how to deal with talking about his remaining projects that I’ll have to help him hand off to someone else. What can I do to try and keep the peace until he leaves? And is there anything I can do differently to avoid a situation like this ever again?

What you’re doing is interesting: All the data you have available here says that this is about Fergus, not about you, but you’re feeling responsible for it and wondering what you did wrong.

Take another look at this:

* You mastered your job quickly, got great feedback, and got promoted because of your work.
* You get along well with your boss and other colleagues.
* Fergus struggled with the basics of his job from the beginning, produced work with numerous errors, and didn’t improve even after repeated corrections.
* When he received professionally-delivered feedback, he got angry and defensive.
* You made social overtures to try to help build a relationship, but he was often sullen.

Why are you worrying that you’re the problem here?

To be clear, it’s definitely good to do some self-reflection to make sure that you don’t have blind spots, especially when you learn someone doesn’t want to work with you.

But if all the available data says that people respect you and enjoy working with you, and that he didn’t because he was bad at his job and didn’t like getting feedback on his work from you … it’s okay to conclude that this is about him, not you.

You asked if you should have been gentler in giving him feedback. Assuming that you weren’t unkind and that you were direct, matter-of-fact, clear, and not punitive or personal … I doubt it. If gentler would mean sugarcoating things or handling him like a delicate flower, then definitely no. And if you’re right that he didn’t like getting feedback from a woman, or from a younger woman, then doubly no. But who knows, maybe it wasn’t that and he wouldn’t have reacted well to feedback from anyone; some people are like that. Regardless, if he couldn’t deal with direct feedback, this likely would have gotten a lot worse once you became his manager.

And really, it’s not a problem that someone who was performing poorly and responding unprofessionally to feedback decided to move on. That’s actually the easiest and best outcome — for him and for your employer, and also for you, since it sounds like otherwise you probably would have needed to let him go at some point.

You said you’re struggling to figure out what happened, and it sounds like what happened is that you worked with a dude who was bad at his job, gave him direct feedback about his mistakes as part of your own job, he didn’t like that, and he wasn’t willing to work for someone who he could tell was going to hold him accountable. (Of course, his version of this is probably something like: “My coworker was always nitpicking my work and wouldn’t cut me any slack, and when I found out she was going to be my new boss, I said hell no.” And it feels crappy to know that someone out there thinks of you that way, but sometimes that’s how it goes when you’ve got a colleague who’s bad at their job and handles feedback horribly.)

{ 175 comments… read them below }

  1. 123456789101112 do do do*

    You can also remember that others who received feedback from you took it well. Fergus was a one-off, an anomaly in your dataset. Don’t concentrate on him.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Yes, this! Sounds like there’s a lot of good – great, actually! You just got a great promotion! – feedback on you and how you handle things in general. Fergus is definitely an anomaly and not worth stressing over or dwelling on.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      Definitely! I had a coworker who started at the same time as me. I had more experience, did a better job, and got promoted quickly. We got along really great up until that point.

      She freaked, cried, was angry at everyone, became beligerent, and threatened to make fake sexual harassment claims about a Sr VP. She called him a ‘Forking Ash Hole’ and slammed the phone down on him so hard that she popped off a fake nail. She threatened lawsuits to the point where I was not allowed to give her any feedback without running it past the company’s legal counsel beforehand and even then, I had to have a witness present. Eventually, she managed to get herself fired (shocker).

      The point is, it really is about other people sometimes and not you. She was a one-off, and so is Fergus. Everyone else I have managed since then has been completely reasonable and lovely to work with.

  2. Roscoe*

    So, while this is about you, its also as Alison said about him. And frankly, while I can understand being a bit hurt (not sure if that is the right word), you should also take it as a relief that now you can get a better person in.

    That said, there are definitely a couple of people in my previous work history that, had they become my boss, I would’ve quit immediately as well. I just know I couldn’t have worked under them for various reasons, some purely personal, some professional.

    Overall though, this seems like a good outcome for all involved.

    1. ChachkisGalore*

      Yup – this is where I’m at as well. I get that the timing stings, but try to think of it more as a recognized mismatch rather than a commentary on your management skills/style.

      I’m at the point in my career/life where I know what type of managers I work best with, and that is something I screen very carefully for when interviewing. I also know what type of people/personalities/work styles I do not work well under. I’m with Roscoe in that there are absolutely people that I would put in my two weeks notice immediately if I knew they were about to become my boss. Its not necessarily about them or their skills its simply that I know their style + me would not work. You can be an objectively excellent manager, but there will always people for whom your management style isn’t ideal.

    2. anon today and tomorrow*

      Yes, there are definitely people I’ve known who I can work with reasonably well when we’re at the same level, but I would have absolutely quit if I had to report to them. That’s not a bad thing on the part of this employee because if this was the case, he’s looking out for his best interests and also preventing any issues OP may have managing them.

    3. jamlady*

      I agree. A former co-worker of mine, who sounds a lot like Fergus, just quit after 2.5 years of hating our (very awesome) boss. She hated being managed and she was tired of being given regular poor performance reviews. Due to how long she was here, she couldn’t be fired, and we are all so happy now that we can fill her role with the right person. OP’s situation is actually ideal.

      1. Nonsensical*

        I agree that not all managers work but sometimes an awesome boss is awesome to some people and awful to others. I am currently dealing with a boss that seems to be great towards others but after I thought it was merely me – I went from being a top performer to being a ‘low’ performer, I’ve started to realize it is just my boss doesn’t work with me.

  3. fposte*

    I’d send him a thank-you card. He was going to be a thorn in your managerial side and he disappeared before that could happen.

    Okay, I wouldn’t really send him a thank-you card, but this is a really good outcome. Fergus gets to think he showed you but good, and you get to hire somebody capable. Yay!

    1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

      I’d be tempted to give him a muffin basket on his last day. Absolutely agree with everyone saying that you dodged a bullet with this guy.

      1. Liane*

        Although it’s not clear from the wording, I think Fergus’ resignation was effective immediately. But yes, I agree with the sentiment–Fergus did LW a big favor by making himself Not LW’s Problem Any More.

        1. Ruby*

          OP says they have to manage Fergus for his two weeks notice period so it’s not effective immediately.

        2. Liane*

          I missed the last sentence–sorry.
          Since he is around for a bit longer, I’d just treat him pleasantly and professionally, as it sounds like you’ve been doing all along. But if your company customarily does something for departing employees, do it, or at least ask him if he wants to do that.

          1. Your friendly neighbourhood letter writer*

            Hi, I’m the letter writer. This made me laugh because I totally did this. It wasn’t on purpose! But I definitely brought in a box of Timbits (Canadian for “doughnut holes”) for my inaugural team meeting :)

    2. Christy*

      Yes, this is the *dream*. Seriously, congratulations on your good fortune. It’s good that you’re reflective, but this one is totally not on you.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. And even if he quit “because of” OP’s promotion, that doesn’t mean OP did anything wrong.

      Moreover, if he was this frustrating as a peer, he would have been a difficult report to manage. It sounds like he chose a path that’s better for everyone. Maybe he’ll find a job that’s a better match for him.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        This. Even if, in Fergus’ head, the problem (“problem”) WAS LW, that doesn’t make LW wrong or mean she should have done anything differently. If it’s a problem to expect quality work and hold people accountable and give constructive feedback when necessary, well … that’s kind of the job.

        1. Annonymouse*

          Exactly. I had a Fergus of my own at a previous job.

          There were two branches of our tea shops. I was duty manager and head designer for the main store and he was the designer for the smaller branch. And he was TERRIBLE at his job.

          Part of my job was to assign design work to the team. I could give feedback but not really manage in any meaningful way. Not a problem except Fergus would work with us one day a week all day. (Mornings at my shop, afternoon at his.)

          He would refuse to listen to me, take over work assigned to others, disregard the design notes of what the pots needed to be for client orders, caused us to be late on delivery and would occasionally try to undermine me.

          I was a woman in a male dominated industry and 13 years his junior as his boss / with the head designer title. He didn’t like that. He never had issues with any of my male coworkers. I talked to the store owner about him because it was ridiculous. By all accounts he should have been fired. But because designers that could work our hours were hard to find he stayed.

          So I left. That was a blow to the business that they still haven’t recovered from 4 years later.

          Earlier this year I was job searching and applied for a role at a new tea shop. Fergus is working there and I would have been his boss. He pulled a “her or me, choose” and they chose him.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Yes, Fergus may have resented your feed back, and resented you being promoted, because you and he started out as peers, bu that doesn’t mean that there was anything wrong with how you behaved. It’s his problem to work through (or run away from)

        Congratulations, both on your promotion, and on not having to deal with Fergus beyond the end of his notice period.

      3. Someone Else*

        It’s totally possible Fergus quit not because he wanted nothing to do with working for OP, but because he knew, that she knew that he couldn’t do the job. So this might’ve been an “I’ll quit before you fire me” situation.

    4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      Right! Seriously throw a little coffee and donuts “go away party” …um…er… I mean “farewell party” on his last day — let him think it’s because you’ll miss him, while you’ll know it’s because you won’t.

    5. Polymer Phil*

      I could understand OP being upset if a star performer was leaving because of a personality conflict with her, but in this situation, she’s looking a gift horse in the mouth. Problem employees like Fergus often hang around for years if they avoid doing anything blatant enough to be fired outright.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, if she’s going to be overseeing people she’s probably going to long for the days where the problem employee would just see himself out.

    6. TootsNYC*

      it’s also them and you can only control their actions so much!

      This is the only thing I’d worry about–that his immediate resignation might make my new boss think that there was something horrible about me as a manager, to provoke that response.

      So develop your script for the people over your head, one that doesn’t trash Fergus too much and relies instead on “had been struggling” and “I’d had to give him feedback about his mistakes somewhat frequently, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’d be more comfortable elsewhere” and then wait to see if you need it.

      If I were your boss, and I had any inkling at all of the past with him, I’d totally assume it was all Fergus.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Thank you for writing this out. I was very concerned about OP’s reaction to this crap guy leaving. The tone of the letter was, to me, all about the affect of Fergus leaving on OP’s emotions not career. And I hated to think that this was the real issue. He didn’t like working with you; he was not going to like working for you. What’s the issue?
        The issue is a new boss coming in and seeing a guy jump ship. But new boss could also think that this guy is leaving because he liked the old boss, maybe they are going together. He could also think that Fergus doesn’t want to work for him. But he’s not thinking that. And he’s probably not thinking too much about why Fergus doesn’t want to work for OP. But I can see where OP is concerned.

      2. Your friendly neighbourhood letter writer*

        Hi, I’m the letter writer. I was concerned about how this would make me look too, but my outgoing boss and I both found out about Fergus resigning at the same time (because he emailed HR without talking to anyone first) from my new boss (who my old boss used to report to. Now I do. Sorry, this is confusing). We all talked about it together, including the same concerns that my old boss had tried to deal with before, and luckily, my new boss is amazing and has been in my corner from the beginning. I recognize how lucky I am to have that kind of support!

        1. TootsNYC*

          yeah, the fact that your new boss was not new to the company, just new to having you as a manager under him, means that he/she would have some back knowledge of Fergus and his issues, so you should’t have to worry.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      Exactly. Sometimes, the answer to “what did I do wrong?” or “what could I have done to prevent this?” or “what do I need to change?” is NOTHING.

    2. LKW*

      Agreed. You set a high bar for yourself and you set a reachable bar for your colleagues.

      Your efforts were seen and rewarded. Your colleagues (with exception of one) like working with you.

      You can’t please everyone and not everyone has to like you. I see no negative outcome here. You got rid of dead weight without lifting a finger.

      This guy saw that what you delivered was valued. The reasons why he left are irrelevant.

  4. Amber Rose*

    It’s possible that, given how much coaching you were giving him, he assumed he was on the chopping block once you got promoted and decided to leave on his own terms.

    Which is good. It sounds like the position was a bad fit and your boss was letting it go on too long as it was. Work with him as you would work with anyone who was leaving, and don’t take this so personally. Fergus can’t have been feeling too great this whole time, knowing he sucked at his job. That’s about him and his abilities, not you.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, this is both a charitable explanation and a really likely, explanation of what happened. I agree with the rest of your comment.

    2. Bostonian*

      Yeah, it’s possible his thinking was less along the lines of “I can’t have OP as my boss” and more along the lines of “I can’t work here if ExBoss is no longer my boss”

  5. iglwif*

    Congrats on your promotion, OP!
    And honestly also congrats on having only 2 weeks of Fergus to deal with and not an indefinite future.
    It’s definitely him, not you.

  6. Lynca*

    OP- you’re not intolerable. I want to put that out there because you seem to be beating yourself a bit and I don’t think you did anything wrong. Alison is right that this is about how Fergus handles himself and not how you professionally tried to help him.

  7. MuseumChick*

    Sounds like Fergus was a bad fit for the role. I wound’t be surprised if you age and gender also had something to do with this. But, the bottom like is, from all the evidence we have, you are not the problem here. As for the next two weeks just treat him as you would any employee who was leaving. Check in on project he is wrapping up, any kind of passwords or other information you want to make sure he leaves with you guys, if you company had a traditional of say, getting cake for people who leave do that.

  8. Rezia*

    You asked “Worst of all, I have to manage him for the next two weeks. It feels like he found me so intolerable that he didn’t think it was even worth giving working with me a shot, so I’m not sure how to deal with talking about his remaining projects that I’ll have to help him hand off to someone else. What can I do to try and keep the peace until he leaves?”

    I think you need to get him out of your head and focus on being professional (friendly, matter of fact, focused on business). Do what you’d do with any other employee that was leaving. Your goal here isn’t really to “keep the peace” but rather to make sure there is a smooth transition for your company and your team. If he acts out, that’s his problem, and you can respond as appropriate, but it doesn’t make sense to tread on eggshells when you have practical work concerns.

    Also, the rest of your team will be watching you to see how you deal with an employee leaving, so keeping it professional and work-focused is important not just for Fergus but also so your team knows you can handle transitions well.

    Congratulations on your promotion!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Excellent point about not taking an employee leaving too personally–your other team members are taking mental notes on how this will work if they one day give notice.

    2. Observer*

      Excellent points!

      OP, don’t take this so personally. It’s not about you. Keep it professional and friendly and that’s it. Anything else is on him.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Also, the rest of your team will be watching you to see how you deal with an employee leaving, so keeping it professional and work-focused is important not just for Fergus but also so your team knows you can handle transitions well.

      Yep! It’s so important to treat this as an ordinary, non-personal thing.
      And in the months to come, as well as just now. (do not discuss him, going forward; if it should come up, I’d say, “I hope Fergus has landed well, and has a job that’s a good fit for him.”)

      People are entitled to quit, for whatever reason they want.

      1. Artemesia*

        Great advice. The focus should be on documenting his job if that is important to do and assisting in a smooth transition i.e. wrapping up projects, conveying passwords, etc. If at all possible see if the management will allow him to be walked now with pay for the two weeks and cut his access especially his information access immediately. Ideally an unhappy employee is not given two weeks to sabotage or reconsider his resignation.

    4. LKW*

      Never take it personally. Even though in this case you can see a dotted line from your boss’ resignation to your promotion to Fergus’ resignation, for all you know he can’t work for people who are left handed, he finally found a job and got the notice a few days prior or he hit his savings goal and now he’s planning to kick it in the islands for a few years.

      If you suddenly find turn over is drastically higher than you’d expect -then yes, it might be you. But one dude… that was going to be a pain in your neck … that couldn’t keep up anyway… don’t look the gift horse in the mouth here.

    5. Sacred Ground*

      Also, a good way to avoid taking this personally, remember that he bless you’ve discussed it with him directly, you do not actually have any idea why he’s given notice. It could be, as you’ve assumed, that he doesn’t want to work directly under you, and that feels personal even if there’s nothing you could, would, or should have done differently. It could be about his pride and ego feeling wounded, it could be jealousy, it could just be that he doesn’t like you for whatever reason.

      BUT! It could also be that his departure has nothing at all to do with you. It could be that his struggles with the work itself has got him too stressed and so he’s looking for work he can do better. Maybe he’s already received and accepted an offer for a more suitable job for him. Maybe he’s moving to another city to be with his long distance sweetheart or to care for an elderly parent, maybe he’s enlisting in the Marines, maybe joining the circus, maybe he won the lottery. My point is this guy’s resignation and the timing of it could easily have nothing whatsoever to do with you and your promotion.

      I’m prone to take every little thing that happens in my life as a personal failing. I often assume other people’s choices are in some way a reaction to me and then I torture myself wondering what I did wrong and if nothing, I blame them for making me feel that way. And most of the time, their choices had nothing to do with me in the first place. My therapist calls this “mind-reading” and it’s been a huge source of unnecessary anxiety in my life. I’m still working on it.

  9. Brett*

    The timing might not have been a coincidence, but the departure might have been.
    Fergus may have already been job hunting for something that was a better match, or even had offers on the table (just because he was bad at some aspects, like spelling, does not mean he did not have valuable skills). So, he might have been ready to leave, for reasons that had nothing to do with the OP, but took the transition as a good time to make his departure.
    In that situation, it probably would have happened regardless of who received the promotion.

    1. Triplestep*

      This is what I was thinking. My boss (who I often describe here is both insecure and self-important) points out that a former staff member of hers “wanted her job but didn’t get it, so he left.” After hearing this multiple times (every time his name comes up!) I finally said “Well, of course that makes sense. When you’ve got evidence you’ve gone about as far as you can go in an organization, you start looking around for a better fit and more opportunity for growth.”

      LW, I think you know this isn’t because of you. Just keep in mind that people leave workplaces for lots of reasons having more to do with opportunity than with the current situation.

      1. MK*

        This reminds me of the manager who refused to promote one of two employees who had applied till both of them promised not to quit if they didn’t get the promotion. And most people agreed they were being unreasonable. Leaving a company after being passed over for a promotion is a valid career step. I know Alison advises to ask what they need to see from you so that you will get the promotion in the future, but if another opportunity is unlikely to come up for years, it makes better sense to look elsewhere.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I’m reminded of a college athlete who was benched in favor of some other player, and he transferred schools. His statement was something like, “no hard feelings, but I want to go where I can get a lot of playing time. That’s not here, not anymore.”

          Now, college athletes have “letter of intent” rules, etc., and it wasn’t that simple.

          But it seemed sensible to me.

          1. designbot*

            Exactly. It doesn’t have to be you, or him, it’s just the situation. He’s not excelling there, and the fact that you are doesn’t change that but it may make it more obvious to him. And why on earth wouldn’t he move on from a job that wasn’t going well?

  10. Falling Diphthong*

    Could be gender. Could be age. Could be personalities not meshing. Could be there in no one on the face of this Earth from whom Fergus would take feedback graciously.

    People with more power and influence at the company than Fergus think you’re doing a good job. I’d listen to them.

  11. Avyncentia*

    OP, it sounds like your measure of success here is “Fergus has professional reactions to feedback, gets better at his job, and doesn’t leave.” Or perhaps even “Fergus likes me (not as a friend, but as a colleague).” As one younger female manager to another, that’s not a realistic expectation and you’ll make yourself depressed/anxious if that’s your goal. You can’t make people perform better or treat you professionally. What you can do is set clear expectations, deliver timely feedback, and treat your colleagues and direct reports with respect. If you’ve done these things and the person still isn’t performing up to par, then the best outcome is for them to leave. Bonus points if you are able to have frank enough conversations that they leave voluntarily (resign) rather than involuntarily (fired). As to how to manage him the next 2 weeks, keep your focus on wrapping up his work and performing complete hand-offs, as you would with any other resignation.

    Congratulations and best of luck on your promotion.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I wish there was a way to include this post in the non-existent Manager Handbook(TM) that none of us get.

      Spot on and nothing else to add except the OP should read this a couple of times until it becomes ingrained.

      1. Avyncentia*

        Ask a Manager is the Manager Handbook I wish I’d known about when I became a manager. A lot of my management philosophy is adapted from reading this site religiously over the last year, including browsing the archives.

    2. Your friendly neighbourhood letter writer*

      Hi, letter writer here. Thank you so much – I’ve been looking at this with limited perspective (“this is new! How do I not screw it up!”). It’s so helpful to know what other people see as successful management from a higher level. As Randomusername… below mentioned, I did read your comment a couple times because it resonated with me. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

      1. Avyncentia*

        I’m glad it helped! It took me a while to get to the point where I felt comfortable working with low performers.

        Honestly one of the best days of my management experience was when I was having a quarterly review with a low performer where I was explicit about how he measured up with expectations (spoiler: in some important areas, he didn’t). I was about to start a conversation about whether he thought he could/wanted to meet those expectations or if we should set an end date, but he preempted me by saying, “this seems like a good time to tell you that I’m going back to school and am leaving in a month.”

        It was such a relief! I didn’t have to have the difficult conversation, he didn’t have to hear more about how he wasn’t doing well, and we could move right on to a productive conversation about how to wrap up his work in a way that he’d be happy with.

  12. lyonite*

    I think everything Allison said is dead-on, but if it makes you feel any better, it could be that his sudden resignation wasn’t personal, but that your promotion made it clear to him that he was not going to advance in his career in this job, and he would be better off leaving and starting over somewhere else. Either way, you don’t need to worry about his feelings, just spend the next couple weeks getting what you need done from him, and wish him a (silent) good riddance when it’s over.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      This is an excellent point. Fergus is a tool, and no amount of coffee dates or morning smiles were going to change that, but his departure might well have been the result of HIS reading the writing on the wall, realizing he was a poor fit, and deciding that — for a number of reasons — this was a good time to make a positive change for himself and take his toolishness elsewhere to a job that would be a better fit. Remember that it doesn’t feel good to be in a job where you’re struggling. Fergus was not having a blast sucking at his job. He was never magically going to wake up and be great at this. LW’s promotion meant that things were definitely not about to get better for Fergus, and so Fergus might have just taken the hint and freed everyone from this situation.

      1. Susie Q*

        I think calling him a tool is rude and unfair. He struggled at his job but we don’t know his reasons or any potential issues he was having while employed at this job.

        He is a more high maintenance employee at this job but nowhere did the letter indicate that he deserved to be called a tool. He sucked at taking feedback which a LOT of people do. Including people who think they are great at receiving feedback.

  13. Zona the Great*

    OP, I’ve done it myself. I did it in a much more professional way but my departure was actually due to the fact that I told myself I would only stay as long as Boss A was still around. Not for any other reason than I worked so well under her and it was a perfect time for me to leave personally and professionally.

    Really really try not to take it personally. Homeboy might have only been able to handle the job as-is and knew one change could break him. The possibilities are endless as to why he left.

    My advice is to meditate on this by imagining him in an un-tethered boat that you just calmly push out to drift. Watch him fade away into the horizon and let it end.

  14. Artemesia*

    The best possible outcome! You have an incompetent difficult employee who will be leaving so you don’t have to deal with him.

    Of course reflect on your management style, but it looks like a win from here. This outcome suggests that direct clear feedback is working for you.

  15. Anon Anon*

    Even if Fergus was a great co-worker, not everyone reacts well when their peer becomes their boss. It’s not in common for people to leave, because the changed dynamic doesn’t work for them anymore.

    1. Liane*

      Yes to this. And maybe not even because 1 or both parties are doing something wrong. Sometimes even a good employee decides that a person who was at least tolerable as a peer is not someone they would be able to work under.

      1. Anon Anon*

        When I was first promoted one of my great reports resigned. One because it’s was hard for her to have the dynamic changed, and two because she thought her promotional opportunities were even more limited for her (and she planned to leave before the reporting relationship changed, we just didn’t know it). She was awesome, and it was the best thing for her career, as she’s getting paid far more in a position that is a lot more senior. Departures aren’t always about who the person reports to.

    2. miss_chevious*

      This. There are several people in my organization who are fine colleagues — professional, bright, good at their jobs — who I would never work for, because our styles are not compatible in a boss/employee way.

  16. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    My first thought was to say just forget about him. He’s the problem, and he has the problem.

  17. Anduril*

    I found myself in a very similar situation recently and wondered the same thing “is it me? I’m not doing something right here?” It’s one person, I promise you it is not you. I bet it’s tempting to wonder if maybe everyone else thinks the same thing but is to polite to say so? If your boss and coworkers all say you are doing good work and give feedback well they’re not lying to be polite! I know I personally have a tendency to think if I just find a optimal way to do something that is currently not working with someone that will fix the issue but sometimes there really is no the perfect phrasing or delivery to make a person do what you need and do it correctly. Because it’s not just you in a situation, it’s also them and you can only control their actions so much! No optimal phrasing or working with their quirks will fix/trick/turn the light bulb on for someone who just cannot handle things like feedback, or take instructions, etc. Congrats on your promotion! Honest self reflection is a powerful tool for improvement but don’t get too caught up thinking you must be the one who has to change their methods to work with someone who hasn’t shown willingness to at least try to do the same.

    1. TootsNYC*

      it’s also them and you can only control their actions so much!

      Actually, you can’t control their actions at all.

      And it’s actually disrespectful to try to control them! They’re entitled to complete free agency. Even if you don’t like it.

      1. Anduril*

        Poor choice of words, maybe influence is a better word than control. If say a manager goes to give feedback and does it by screaming at a person, the person may react by then getting upset and it would be disingenuous of the manager to shrug and say “Well MY actions had no part in their reaction” but of course they do! Same with if a manager notices a person seems to struggle when given instructions verbally but understands them much better when they are emailed to them. The manager could make an effort to give instructions over email then following up verbally.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I didn’t mean to criticize your choice of the word “control”; it was just a good springboard for my point about that I believe it’s a form of disrespect when a person worries too much about other people’s reactions. Other people get to feel what they feel.

    2. LKW*

      I had two people resign on me in the same week. And at first I had the same thought but then came to my senses. One person had been headhunted and had only been on my team a short while. He actually wrote me a really nice note when he left. The other wanted an H1B visa and although I tried to make that happen, it was denied and so he decided another company might be able to help him get to the US.

      So far, no one else has quit (knock on wood).

  18. Czhorat*

    It very well could be that he left because seeing the promotion go to you made him realize it wouldn’t be heading towards him. He could either be upset about it, annoyed, or just in the search for a fresh start elsewhere where he CAN work to become the sort of person who’d move up.

    In no event is it your fault, and the potential for two awkward weeks is the only effect this should have on you. Remember that a notice period is mostly for the purpose of a smooth transition; you don’t need to “fix” any issues with his work long term or worry about his development. Just make sure someone else is up to speed on any of his work and wish him well in his future endeavors. His future endeavors far, far away from you.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Ah, yes. OP, you’re a woman. You’ve been taught since toddlerhood that you are responsible for everyone else’s feelings. It may take a while to internalize the idea that this is not true and, in fact, not humanly possible.

      1. Zona the Great*

        Oooh I see. I didn’t read this comment in the same way you did. Totally agree that we tend to take responsibility for others’ feelings. Don’t necessarily agree that she’s being treated any kind of way because of her gender.

      2. EddieSherbert*

        Agreed with this bit, since I’ve been there and OP really sounds like that is where she is coming from :)

        For the sake of being civil to Fergus the rest of his time in your company though, do not assume his issue is your gender or age. Itn isn’t going to help you work with him right now!

        Also, please don’t speculate (ahem, gossip…) about Fergus with your former peers/now employees. They ARE paying attention to how you handle someone leaving, and you don’t want them knowing/hearing you assume the worst about the person leaving (or that you’re gossiping about it).

        1. CM*

          +1 to Eddie Sherbert’s last paragraph — resist the urge to confide in any of your now-reports that you’re glad Fergus is gone! Your official comment is that you wish him well in his future endeavors. (Not that your letter sounded like you were eager to badmouth him — just as a new manager, you were probably friends with your peers who are now your reports, and might be used to venting to them about your frustrations.)

          1. Your friendly neighbourhood letter writer*

            Hi, letter writer here. Thank you for your concern! The only people I ever discussed Fergus with at work are my current and former bosses. The official stance remained with everyone on my team and off. Otherwise, I’ve been leaning on friends and family for advice, but no one else related to the company.

            1. tangerineRose*

              You’re being smart.

              Also, one thing I’ve learned is that it’s easier (on me anyway) to not assume that someone is treating me worse because I’m a woman.

    2. Zona the Great*

      Nah. Not enough info. I am a woman who has been treated all kinds of wrong in the professional arena but this wasn’t my first thought.

      1. LKW*

        My reaction was “Oh, you care because you’re a woman”. Most guys would be like “Sucks to be you -don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya!” whereas the the LW is taking on the burden of making her reports happy. She doesn’t have to make them happy, she has to work with them to make the company, herself and them successful.

        Not sure if this is a woman thing or a young woman thing but I’m trending towards young woman (under 35) thing.

        1. Zona the Great*

          Totally! I interpreted this comment as that she was being dogged by her employee because she’s a woman not that she cares so much because she’s a woman. Ahh the intricacies of being female.

    3. Sam Sepiol*

      I read the majority of letter writers here as female but for some reason I read this one as male. When I got to that line, yeah, I revaluated in pretty much the same way as you. :-/

    4. DeepThoughts*

      Dragoning – yes, I did too. What happened to the LW here happens frequently. I am to the point where don’t spend much valuable energy on wondering/caring if people like me in the workplace. I want them to respect my work and professionalism. Of course, it is better to be liked than not liked but I don’t make this a goal as it can make me act in ways that are not good for me professionally.

    5. Yay commenting on AAM!*

      I thought that too.

      OP should be thankful that she works for an employer where this is seen as a Fergus problem and not a her-problem. I’m also a woman, and I’ve worked places where I’ve had a few Fergi on my team, and was told that it was my problem that Fergus didn’t like me. Even if 95% of the other people who were performing satisfactorily got along with me and liked me, I was doing a poor job because I didn’t have a 100% approval rating. “Well that one person is mad because you wrote her up for no-call no-showing, you obviously can’t get along with others.”

  19. BRR*

    I have a sort of similar situation and my Fergus has gotten away with poor work quality because of a bad manager. I can see my Fergus quitting if they had a different manager who held them accountable. Not sure if that’s the case here but it could be a factor. It sounds like there are several things in play though that are all about Fergus.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes, when I first became a manager I had an employee rage-quit very early on, because I showed up and actually expected them to do their job.

      We weren’t, and hadn’t been, peers, but I suspect that the fact that she was older than me certainly added to her reaction.

      At the time, I was very upset and thought I must have done something wrong to provoke such an extreme response, but a more senior colleague reassured me (and much later, disclosed to me that he had been just round the corner, in earshot, when it all went down, trying to decide whether to come out and support me, or whether that would undermine me by making it look as if I needed an older, male co-worker to back me up. He chose not to step in, but happily having stormed off, she then phoned him to complain about me, clearly expecting to be courted to come back n. That … is not what happened.)

    2. The New Wanderer*

      Same, although in this case the Fergus had a mostly good reputation and had done some good work to deserve it, but was pretty dismissive to mgmt. and thought herself above having to do things like produce reports documenting her work.

      When senior management turned over and someone she probably couldn’t ignore took over, she left.

  20. Observer*

    If it’s true that he’s leaving because he couldn’t take un-sugar coated feedback from a woman or from someone younger than him, it is a VERY good thing that you didn’t change your style. It’s not a good thing to coddle that kind of nonsense at all. Even if the guy were a start performer it would be a bad idea. When a person is sb-par, it’s a terrible idea.

  21. jk*

    Ahhh! Another one of the many reasons why I just left my job. We had a Fergus! He was so moody and unpredictable. He’d waltz in at 4pm (we were flexible and he took advantage of that) and disrupt our entire day with dramatic stories about dying pets or flooded basements.

    Anyway, he was at the company for well over a decade and me, well I just left after 3.5 years. I was promoted above him and he was nothing but rude to me. When he found out I got promoted he complained to me that he wanted to do all the things that I do… so in my head I’m thinking “Welp… if you came in on time and didn’t have a bad attitude with your colleagues maybe you’d be in charge of the team by now!”

    I leave knowing that I’m going to a much better opportunity and he’ll still be there rotting away and causing my former boss headaches. So happy to get a fresh start. I know I wasn’t the problem it was him and my boss couldn’t handle it.

    1. Cruciatus*

      But to quit the next day? I think most people would at least stay on until they found something else (and I’m assuming he didn’t have something else lined up).

  22. a heather*

    This is not you, it’s him. You say he didn’t make friends at the company, not just that he didn’t make friends with you. Perhaps it’s because he can’t take a younger female being his boss, but again, that’s not about you, it’s about him. Be glad, and look for a good replacement.

  23. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Try not to take it personally. Fergus is just one person out of many. I had a very passive-aggressive manager who was p/a with everyone except his favourite pets. When his contract was renewed I decided that I would not stay any longer. He announced he was staying for another year and 3 people along with me put in their notice. Four years later and the turnover in his department is still very high. I just checked and my position is being posted (again).

  24. bunniferous*

    When you are supervising people you have to be okay with them being unhappy with you sometimes. This is good practice for that. It is wonderful you are willing to look at your own practices, etc but you need to be confident in your own skin because trying to keep everyone happy all the time is a fool’s errand.

    Congrats on the promotion! Remember, you deserve it!

  25. The Bimmer Guy*

    I figure that you getting promoted was more of a catalyst for him. Maybe he couldn’t bear the thought of seeing the difference between your career track at the company and his. Sort of like those people who sabotage or end their relationships because their partners are doing far better than they are.

    It probably didn’t have anything to do with disliking you or anything you did wrong.

    1. Anoncorporate*

      It probably confirms that he isn’t a good fit for his role, given all his previous problems. It’s good he quit.

    2. boo bot*

      This was my thought, actually – if I were struggling but thought I was hanging in there, and then I saw my colleague who started at the same time as me leap way ahead like that, I might take that as a reality check and start looking for something I would be a better fit for.

  26. Oranges*

    The number one thing I look for is “can this person take feedback” when we hire a new person. That’s non-negotiable. If they can’t take feedback then no matter how sublimely they do the rest of job they’re not actually doing the job.

      1. Midlife Tattoos*

        Ask interviewees how they prefer to receive feedback. Like, “In previous roles, how was feedback given to you from your management? How did that approach work for you?” You can get a sense of how willing they are to hear it — “Oh, I don’t need much feedback, I prefer to work on my own” vs “I prefer getting regular feedback so I know where I stand and if there are ways I can improve.” While the first response isn’t inherently bad, it raises a red flag to me because it says that they don’t like guidance. I probe more when I get that kind of answer.

      2. NW Mossy*

        I’ve asked candidates to walk me through a time when they worked on a project or task that ended poorly. How they frame that story tells you a lot, and the question itself is neutral enough to avoid inadvertently steering towards a particular answer.

        Red flags: being unable to think of an example, the issue was someone else’s fault, what they learned is that others are terrible, general outward-facing negativity and defensiveness

        Green flags: clear ownership of the candidate’s own contributions to the poor ending (“I realized after that I didn’t plan the second part out very well”), reflection on what should change in the future (“since then, I’ve done X instead and things have gone much better”)

  27. Sara without an H*

    Hello, OP — No, it’s not your fault. From your description, Fergus was just a bad fit for the role. Be grateful he’s leaving, and not making you put him on a PIP so you can document him out of the organization.

    Everybody upstream has offered good advice. Concentrate on getting him to wrap up existing projects. If your organization’s culture includes a farewell lunch/coffee/cupcakes, make sure that happens.

    Then revise his job description, make sure the salary is competitive in your market, and hire somebody who will do a fantastic job.

    It sounds as though you’ve successfully built a solid reputation in your company. Congratulations on that promotion, and best wishes for the future.

  28. Anya the Demon*

    It sounds like you did everything right here, thus the promotions and good relationships with your colleagues. Congrats on the new job! As a boss, I think you’ll just need to become comfortable with the fact that there are bad employees and difficult people out there and that they will not appreciate it when anyone (i.e.: you) gives them feedback. Be proud of what you’ve accomplished and, like Allison said – continue to self-reflect in general- but let that self-reflection show you when things aren’t your fault.

  29. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    This may sound harsh, but it’s not meant to be.

    OP, it doesn’t matter if Fergus hates you or not. You are not going to be liked by everyone and you shouldn’t allow that to knock your confidence. At the end of the day you have to be able to say to yourself that you were fair, consistent, clear in your expectations, and got the job done. If you add “Most liked” to that list you are going to be sacrificing in one of the other areas and that will make you fail at being a good boss. Now that doesn’t mean that you become Captain Bly and you can’t be friendly and pleasant with your direct reports and colleagues but you shouldn’t use “Liked” as a measuring stick of success at your job.

    Most people don’t want to work for likable bosses who suck at their job. They want to work for bosses who are good at their jobs and bonus points if they’re likable.

    1. TootsNYC*

      in fact, it’s a relief if the boss doesn’t try to “likable,” because it means there aren’t awkwardnesses around boundaries, and fraternizing, etc.

    2. Your friendly neighbourhood letter writer*

      Hi, thanks for your feedback – and no, I think it was completely fair, and I didn’t read it as harsh.

      I’m not sure the issue was being liked, although I can see how that might come across in my letter. I was more concerned at the idea that someone felt like they couldn’t even work with me, in the hopes that that would be completely independent of how they felt about me personally. But keeping that in mind definitely never hurts!

      1. Sara without an H*

        Did you have some hopes of turning Fergus around? I know that, when I was much younger, I invested way too much energy in trying to salvage people who couldn’t — or wouldn’t — be salvaged.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Your assumptions are based on people who behave like adults. If a five year old does not want to be around you they will tell you. Likewise if a Fergus does not want to be around you they will also tell you.

        Consider the source. There is nothing here about Fergus that would indicate you could expect adult-like behavior. Nothing. Think about the past and count the yellow warning flags. Moodiness. Failure to learn/adapt. Work issues. You can add more here of course. There is nothing in his behavior that indicates you are working with a professional or an adult.
        If you see this again, you will know how it ends.

  30. Anoncorporate*

    Agree with the “it’s not you, it’s him” affirmations. If the problem was you, you would most likely not have been promoted into management in the first place.

  31. Florence*

    Congratulations on your promotion, twice over! You sound like a very conscientious, thoughtful boss. I think, as you continue in your role, you will learn and gain more experience regarding how to separate people’s reactions to your feedback from your own performance as a manager.

    The way you describe your interactions with your soon-to-be-former employee, you bring more empathy and transparency to the relationship than any boss I’ve ever had. The fact that you could plainly tell him what was wrong with his performance, and try to reach out to him to build camaraderie through it all, I think is an excellent quality, especially in a newly-minted boss. Don’t let his reaction get you down! Keep your head high, be there for your current employees, and be sure to hire someone who is going to be an asset to your team.

    You are truly fortunate to no longer have to work with this man, but don’t assume that this will be the last difficult report you will ever have. As a manager, you might have many difficulties down the line managing some aspect of your employees’ performance. You have to do what you know is right and be tough, but also considerate and fair (which you seem to already be doing).

  32. EddieSherbert*

    OP, you mentioned speaking with several people about Fergus leaving and I couldn’t tell if you’re sharing your theory that it has to do with your gender/age, or mentioning how bad his work was.

    I don’t know who you’re talking with (could be family or friends outside work!) but do NOT talk to your peers/new subordinates about your suspicions and feelings around Fergus. And don’t talk about how bad he is at his job with them. I promise they are watching closely to see how you handle an employee leaving. And I would absolutely be making a mental note if I knew that the new manager was ‘spreading rumors’ that he’s leaving because he’s biased against women/young people, or if they were going around saying how bad he was at his job (it makes you seem bitter and is unneeded; plus, they likely already know if he’s bad at his job).

    1. TootsNYC*

      I also wouldn’t want to hear my new boss say, “I don’t know what I did wrong,” in this situation.

      Just don’t talk about him, to anyone, if you can avoid it.

      if you HAVE to say something, try, “I’m assuming Fergus decided this wasn’t a good fit for him after all; I hope he’s found something that works better for him.”

      1. Your friendly neighbourhood letter writer*

        Hi, letter writer here. I didn’t make this clear, but I was talking about my new boss (only once when it was relevant to Fergus’ resignation), and some mentors and friends I spoke to outside of the company about the situation who don’t know anyone here personally. More than one of them mentioned gender and age before I did, while I was just laying out the facts.

        To my peers and subordinates, this isn’t a thing. They could look at the feedback I gave Fergus and see it was no different from anyone else’s. But thank you for your concern – I can see how you could read into the letter that I could have been blabbing to people within the company, and that hasn’t been the case.

  33. Jimmy Dean*

    Congratulations on your promotion; I’m sure it is well-deserved. You needed to tell your story, so the details of Fergus’ work ethic, as you perceive it, are important. I’m a little distressed, though, that the commenterati are painting this unknown man in such an unsympathetic light. It sounds like it’s important to you to be well thought-of, and that’s okay…you certainly can embrace that need. To achieve that goal, it may help to have some empathy. Try to see this from his point of view. You don’t say how old everyone is, but if he’s a middle-aged man and someone younger passes him by in the organization, he may feel like a failure. Certainly, he’s aware that you have been consistently correcting him. How often did you praise his good work? Was the positive feedback as enthusiastic and unvarnished as all the corrections? Why would he hang around and subject himself to a constant harangue of “you’re not good enough, Fergus,” especially if it’s actually true?
    Fergus is saving himself from from being belittled even more. So, yes, it’s good for all concerned that he’s leaving. As for the notice period, Fergus isn’t your problem anymore. You say you tried to be friends with him. Well, for the next two weeks, treat him like a friend and let his departure solve this problem. You’ll feel good about yourself if you approach his departure with kindness.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I agree that this is un all likelihood a good move for Fergus.

      He’ll be happier working somewhere else. Maybe even doing something different.

  34. LadyPhoenix*

    i have some questions for OP to ponder (but not entirely dwell on)
    1) Do you have any additional male colleques?
    2) How do these guy respond to feedback, especially in contrast/similiarity to Fergus? Do they accept your feedback or do they roll their eyes and cop and attitude?
    3) Did Fergus recieve feedback from any male employees? If so, did he respond different to their feedback?
    4) how did Fergus respond to other women?

    Chances are, you found yourself either A) An inconpetant asshole, or B) An incompetant SEXIST asshole.

    If you were having your entire department on your butt, then maybe there would be an issue… but instead it is just one jerk who everyone involved knows could not do his job. And it is better to write him off as wasted space and focus on the rest of your team, see how their performance is doing.

    And no, don’t soften critiques just because they are the opposite gender. That is condescending for them, and embaressingg for you.

    1. Your friendly neighbourhood letter writer*

      Hi, letter writer here. Thank you for the food for thought!
      1) Yes, but on other teams
      2) No problems
      3) The only other man on our team was our former boss. Sometimes I would say something, Fergus would balk, then our boss would repeat it, and Fergus would accept it. But I’m not sure if that was more an employee/boss deferral thing than a gender thing.
      4) The other women on the team are less direct than I am. As far as I know, that feedback was fine, but I know they spent a lot of time on his feedback too.

      And to be clear, I wasn’t thinking of softening critique because Fergus is a guy – I was wondering if I should have because it exacerbated his anxiety so much. But I don’t think that would have served him in the long run either.

  35. Elizabeth West*

    I have to wonder if my last boss thought I was a Fergus–we never worked together before she took over and my job changed. I had stellar reviews before then from my old boss. It really wasn’t her; it was the new work. I was really scared I was going to end up doing something I couldn’t do, which was exactly what she wanted me to do.

    OP, it sounds like you did everything right. This just wasn’t a fit for Fergus, either because of his attitude or the actual work itself, and he self-selected out. Alison is right. This really is the best outcome.

  36. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Congrats on your promotion .. yet, was there a possibility Fergus applied for the same spot and was passed over?

    Not saying that your management didn’t do the right thing – apparently they did, from what you’re saying, but sometimes the “Passover shuffle” takes place.

    That, too, may have been a factor in his departure.

  37. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    He sounds fragile and like he was already on edge, this isn’t as sudden as you feel it was. He probably saw the writing on the wall with your boss leaving, then knew you already know he’s not getting up to speed. Let him go. He’s a rock that thankfully removed himself from around your ankle before things could have gotten worse.

    You cannot beat yourself up or take these kind if employees so personally. You cannot train everyone to be a good fit and no matter how much you tiptoe around them, they’re still ticking time bombs.

  38. New Job So Much Better*

    The LW said he started in the same junior role as she did. I wonder if that made him resent her correcting him (as opposed to a supervisor doing the correcting.)

    1. JS*

      They also said the job involves giving feedback, so while that might be the case then the coworker is still at fault for not realizing (or just not being able to handle) giving feedback to each other is apart of the role.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s possible! He’s still going to need to find a better place to be. I’ll correct same level employees all day long if necessary, many offices are flat organizationally. I’m not going to run to a supervisor to correct an error when I can address it directly.

      Going to the boss over small errors is even worse most times. You get the “you could just tell me to my face!” reaction. Blargh.

  39. Delta Delta*

    The other possible factor is that perhaps Fergus took the job knowing that Boss was going to be there, and decided continuing to be there if Boss wasn’t there wasn’t what he wanted to do.

  40. JS*

    OP it’s probably for the better this way. Your coworker did you a massive favor IF they quit because you were boss. It’s more common that a person would stay and try to make your life harder tbh. This way you don’t have to deal with insubordination or having the coworker turn any of your other colleagues, now people you manage, against you.

    I commend you on still looking for ways you can improve though. For what it is worth, its kind that you did bring up the issues to your coworker but as soon as you realized they were defensive, you should have stopped and just made it feedback for the manager to give them. Even if feedback is apart of your job, its not worth fighting over and even more so I feel your manager did you a disservice by not being more involved.

  41. Narise*

    The only recommendation I have is to reach out to former boss and ask for their input of the situation. They may be able to provide more feedback because they were on the front lines for so long. He may state that others just corrected the spelling and other errors and never discussed with Fergus or that he also saw issues with Fergus but chose not to address it for reasons he may or may not share.
    I think Fergus made the right choice for himself and for you when he gave his notice. Wish him the best and let him go. Just make sure that you don’t spend so much time telling him that you are sorry that he is leaving that he ends up staying. I think he needs to go and it would be a difficult relationship if he were to stay and report to you.

  42. Bingo*

    Oh, LW, I completely understand your feelings. I’ve been there… except, my peer-turned-direct-report stayed on for 8 months after my promotion and made my life absolute hell. As someone who was “given a shot” (I use that phrase very loosely, I don’t think there was any fair shakes given), all I can say is that I wish she left the same day I was promoted. She was a poison in the team and a thorn in my side. Don’t take it personally – take this as a win and move on. You got this.

  43. Shannon*

    OP, I completely understand where you’re coming from – this happened to me too. And it was my very first management experience as well. I can honestly tell you that it was on them, not you. It took me awhile (too long!) to realize not everyone will like me, and that’s okay.

    If you’re being a strong, thoughtful, kind, and effective professional (which it sounds like you are) the right people will gravitate to you and by default, the not-as-effective people won’t. And that’s okay. This person self-selected out from your team because they didn’t want to work under appropriate expectations. That’s a good thing. Getting rid of that type of worker makes your team stronger.

    You earned the promotion because you’re doing the right things. Congratulations!

  44. Matilda Jefferies*

    I’m going to offer a slightly different perspective. I currently work with someone like this, and while I don’t mind working *with* him, there is not enough money in the world for me to work *for* him. I just…don’t like him. He’s moody, he’s a bit of a micromanager, and our personalities are different enough that I know we wouldn’t work well together if he were my manager. So if I ever found myself in that position, I would 100% be out the door as soon as I could.

    But the thing is, there’s no actionable feedback for him here. There’s nothing he could do, short of a personality transplant, that would make me want to work for him. It’s just the way he is. And me being who I am (and also unlikely to change), I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t be happy working for him. But honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. No two people are going to be a good match in every combination of roles, and that’s not a judgement against either person – sometimes that’s just the way it is, and the best outcome is for someone to move on.

  45. gmg22*

    I empathize (if not sympathize) with Fergus, because I too have left a job before in part because I saw that my age/tenure cohort were all quickly rising in terms of responsibility/roles while I wasn’t. The difference is I didn’t take it out on those people, because coming into work and doing a good job isn’t something about which one should be annoyed with colleagues. Instead I simply made a tough decision that this particular workplace wasn’t the right fit for me and that I needed a fresh start elsewhere. Fergus may have in effect done the latter, which is a good thing, but his timing looks pretty petulant.

  46. Operational Chaos*

    Will there be an exit interview? If so, I would ask HR for the feedback and if not I would encourage leadership to conduct one.

    It may be as simple as he knew it wasn’t a good fit and had an offer on the table but was waiting for the new manager to be announced or it may be personality conflict or any other number of things.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter because even sterling employees will leave and one of the harder parts of management is not taking it personally.

  47. KillItWithFire*

    OP it sounds like you have a good handle on why it happened. And to be honest you shouldn’t worry about preventing things like this. You are not there to make everyone happy, you are there to see that they get their work done and your working group accomplishes it’s goals.

    If he can’t take criticism in a job where it part of the process then he needs to leave. If he can’t take criticism from a woman than you are not required to fix him, that’s what therapists are for.

  48. animaniactoo*

    OP, one of the most freeing concepts in my life has been that I didn’t like everybody I knew and it was just as okay for them not to like me*.

    This is one of those it has to go both ways things – because I don’t want to have to work to like people I find fundamentally unlikeable for a variety of reasons. I want to be free to dislike them and what they stand for and why they stand for it. I want to be free to say that *I* don’t stand for those things and while I can be civil to people who do, I’m not going to be buddies and act like I approve of them.

    By the same token, working to make sure they all like me and are all good with me? Means putting up with crap that I NEVER want to put up with. It means making myself into a version of myself that I am fundamentally unhappy with. And I’ve worked way too hard to be a version of myself that I DO like.

    As long as I am good with how I am and my encounters with most people go the way that I want them to, and I know that I have tried my best with the others? That I have behaved in a way that I consider is respectful whether I like them or not, that I have taken into account differing personalities and tried to work with them, tailored the message for the audience, and tried to adapt within what I am capable of sustaining instead of ramrodding my way as the only way because it’s what I’m comfortable with? Well, I’m going to allow their reactions to be their responsibility. I am free because I don’t have to pretzel myself beyond recognition trying to make “me” work for them. They’re not required to like me and it’s not my job to make them like me no matter what.

    *Feel free to substitute “Like how I work/manage” throughout this.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Fwiw – yes, it’s good to review what you can/did contribute and how you might have possibly been able to change stuff. But when you’re describing something that is fundamentally unworkable and have already reviewed and are still questioning to the point of asking Alison if there was something you could have done differently? You’re working too hard at it. It would have been reasonable to check in with your boss and ask if they thought there was something you could have done more effectively – but that would only be because you’d actually be asking someone familiar with the work ethics/results/personalities of both of you and they might have more insight.

      But in the meantime – how you get through the next two weeks is by granting them the freedom to not want to work under you and respecting it by treating their departure matter of factly and focusing on wrapping up and transitioning whatever they’re working on as smoothly as possible.

  49. LadyCop*

    Alison read my mind on this one. Fergus is so obviously the problem that I would be honestly surprised if gender had anything to do with it…seeing as Fergus had trouble with very normal things, let alone the possibility his behavior could be colored by age or gender…

    As I was reading the OP’s letter, I was shocked the OP is blaming themselves rather than feeling relieved…Someone has done the OP a disservice for this to even be an issue.

  50. Clay on my apron*

    Hi OP. Congrats on the promotion. I hope you’ll enjoy your new role.

    I’m going to take a slightly different stance than Alison did, because as a new manager you need to be fairly self aware and self critical, and learn to manage different types of people according to what *they* need. So perhaps this guy is really inept, and a horrible fit for this role. Or maybe he really has issues getting feedback from a woman. But then I’d expect arrogance, not anxiety, so I wouldn’t assume that’s the issue here.

    It feels to me as though you don’t particularly like this guy, and find him frustrating to work with, and it’s likely that he picked up on that. High achievers often have a hard time concealing their impatience with those who are less capable.

    Direct and professional feedback sounds great, but possibly what your colleague needed more was coaching and mentoring. Of course it may not have been your role to provide that, but that could have been part of the feedback you provided to your manager.

    I also work in a role where attention to detail is very important and critique of each others work is important. But as a senior person on the team I include positive feedback and suggest ways to improve. Especially with juniors who are visibly anxious. I also don’t focus on things like spelling mistakes unless it’s on production ready work. Some people have difficulty with spelling and not all tools / contexts support spell check.

    You don’t mention a single thing that he did well, and your work interactions with him seem to be limited to you pointing out his errors. I can understand that he might quail at the thought of having you as his manager.

    1. Southern Gentleman*

      Thank you, Clay. you put my thoughts into words. The OP describes herself as trying to be inclusive with him and there’s no reason to assume otherwise; but there is an utter absence of positive language in her description of him. She was constantly giving him feedback (correcting him?), but did that include praise, as well? Chances are this poor guy knows how she feels about him. And why would he want to hang around with her psuedo-socially when he perceives that he can’t do anything right in her eyes? And, given how he must feel as a result of all this feedback, chances are he felt working under her supervision would be an exercises in frustration and futility for both of them.

      1. Your friendly neighbourhood letter writer*

        Hi to the both of you, I’m the letter writer. This is fair critique and I saw it addressed in another comment. I wrote this letter in a place of frustration and confusion, and I won’t deny that it shows. But, like in the critique I gave Fergus, I made a point of being objective. He wasn’t good at the basics, and it was cutting into my time.

        He was sometimes arrogant (what spurred the complaint to our boss was when he threw another colleague under the bus for something he just didn’t understand). All the feedback we gave each other was in digital markup; when I noted something, it would usually be in the format of “I can see what you mean here, but in this case, we need to use x because of y. You can find the internal document explaining this here: [link].” I can see that that would have been frustrating in large quantities, but I tried to make it neutral. I ran my edits past our boss to check myself and he said he agreed with me that they were valid and not being too nitpicky. So I do feel like I tried to help Fergus develop his skills without necessarily harping on his faults, even though he was at the same junior level as me.

        Additionally, this was work that would go to production after peer edits. On multiple occasions, I sent the whole team tools for spell checking tools and macros I made to avoid common errors I saw. They didn’t seem to help, and that added to my frustration at the amount of time I was having to spend on edits.

        It is fair that he wouldn’t want to hang out with me, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt if I tried to extend the olive branch so he would know I was critiquing his work, not him as a person. I’m not sure it was successful or the right approach, but I tried.

        1. Bulbasaur*

          A quick point on your feedback technique: I have to do the written feedback thing quite often in my job as part of code reviews, for example. There seems to be something about the medium which results in written feedback being perceived more critically than verbal feedback. One thing I’ve found helpful at times is to write down all the feedback, but then go through it verbally with them in person. Then I send it/save it/whatever so that they have a written record, but the actual feedback was delivered face to face. It seems to be a lot easier to give feedback verbally and have it be perceived as constructive – if nothing else because you can convey by your demeanor that you’re perfectly calm and cheerful and not angry, for example.

          It might not have helped in this case, but it can be useful sometimes if you’re concerned about how your feedback will be received.

  51. Argh!*

    I think you can expect even someone with hidden insecurities to leave when a coworker is promoted. Where I work we had 100% turnover when an internal candidate was promoted in one department.

  52. Midlife Tattoos*

    Unless the whole team suddenly starts a mass exodus out of the door, I wouldn’t worry about this one guy. Like others have said, you absolutely dodged a bullet. I was in the same situation as you, but that employee never left on his own. I had to go through the whole PIP process, which took months and months, and even then he didn’t see the writing on the wall and stuck around until we walked him out.

    You can’t take resignations personally — not only are your employees watching you to see how you’ll treat Fergus, they’re also looking to see how you handle resignations generally. If they see that you take it personally, they’ll be less likely to give you a good notice period when they decide to move on. They’re the ones who write in here and ask how they can resign without upsetting their manager, and the advice always is that the manager has to work that out for themselves and it’s not the responsibility of the resigning employee.

  53. Be Positive*

    Actually I have an issue you felt gender came into play. If you were male I’m sure you would have felt all the other concerns. I like to get direct professional feedback and I feel empowered when treated the same regardless who the manager is

    You keep doing what you are doing. It’s not about you. If he had an issue on your gender that’s him. Honestly, it’s because he can’t perform and he knows it.

    1. Jo*

      No, actually. You’re not sure. There’s honestly zero way you can know whatsoever.

      SHE, on the other hand, as the one managing the situation, and as a female manager who has to deal with this rather consistently, is far more likely to know. SHE’S the qualified/informed party here, not you. And in fairness, her inkling that it IS gender-based is actually much more factually/statistically/historically plausible than your assertion that it isn’t.

      I’m always amazed by this “I am somehow the most qualified person to decide what the objective truth in this situation is, even though I am not at all part of it and probably never have been” thing that seems to happen when stuff like this gets discussed. Why is it so hard for people to believe/understand that if you weren’t there and you’re not a part of it, it’s almost 100% certain that you don’t know best, or at the very least, better than the one in the middle of it? It’s so frustrating.

  54. pegster*

    The OP focuses on Fergus’s feelings and his needs – both of which seem to be opposed to her own.

    It’s good to be empathetic, but I can’t understand why the OP would want Fergus as a report. He doesn’t sound friendly or good at his job.

    The OP seems to be agonising over what she feels was a rebuff, and it seems as though if he gave an opening, she would sacrifice her own interests for his.

  55. Midlife Tattoos*

    Also, the comment about this being about your age/gender. If it was, what would you do differently? I assume it wouldn’t change your approach at all (which is stellar). So while it’s common for us to sometimes ask ourselves that question because sexism is a thing that still exists, at the end of the day it’s completely irrelevant.

  56. Your friendly neighbourhood letter writer*

    Hi everyone, this was my letter. Huge thanks to Alison and for everyone else who took the time to comment for the food for thought, the affirmations, and further questions I could ask myself. I’m working today, so my responses will be slow, but I’ll take the time to go through and reply!

    I think I’ve always looked at problems in the workplace as things I’ve had the power to fix, which is why I assumed I could have done something differently to avoid the situation, especially in a new leadership role. Fergus’ sudden resignation came at a time when I was already dealing with a lot of new tasks, and I let it call into my question about whether this would happen again or if it was a sign I’d somehow be inherently bad at managing. But everyone else I’ve been working with since, on my team and on others, has been lovely and encouraging – it’s been a good reminder to focus on what I can change and remember that there are things I can’t.

    Fergus left without incident, and I wished him well in doing so. I genuinely do hope he finds a better fit and people he feels more comfortable working with, if that wasn’t possible here.

    Thank you again for your time and for your thoughts, everyone. This is a wonderful community, and I’ve never so much as commented before writing this letter. Thank you for making me feel welcome and for your invaluable advice.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I always believed that if there was ever a conflict, it was created by both parties, and both parties had a responsibility to fix it. And that I had to focus on my part. So I did a lot of introspection and self-criticism and self-blaming.

      Then came the job I got fired from.
      I’ve always said that each of my jobs taught me something important.
      That was the job that taught me, “Sometimes it’s not you. Sometimes it’s all them.”

      This is your “sometimes it’s all them” moment.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Nice job on this assessment of things here, OP.

      It sounds like upper management has your back and did not ding you at all for Fergus’s exit. There are some people who do not allow us to help them. It does not happen often so it is surprising when it does.

      I like your tone here, OP, in your examples of your explanations. It sounds to me like you are easy to converse with.

      I’d like to point out 2 things I do not see mentioned here.

      First, it’s pretty well noted in leadership books that when ever there is a new leader there will probably be some attrition. Some people just quit on general principle. They don’t like your shoes/cat/car and they just have to leave. No amount of talking with them is going to salvage the situation. It’s personal in the way they frame it, but it’s more about the fact that they cannot deal with any type of change. You can kind of verify this by doing what-if scenarios. “What if Bob or Sue took the job, would Fergus still leave?” Thinking it though you can probably calculate that Fergus would have left. It’s about the change, not you.

      Second thing, I really like how you tried to salvage the situation. Never lose that willingness to give people a chance. But do incorporate a time frame for how long you will give them a chance. I realize you were a peer to Fergus so that made it tough. But now you are a boss so you have say in how things go.

      Last thing, I know I said two things…ha! Watch how your bosses react to you and this setting here as well as other things in the future. Take mental notes. You may very well end up supervising people who supervise others. It sounds like you have good bosses, watch how they treat you so when your turn comes to have supervisors under you, you have a pretty good idea of how you want to handle things and what you think is important.

  57. Mommy MD*

    As long as your advice to him as his peer was not loud, abrupt, condescending or said with an eye-rolling attitude, I wouldn’t worry about it. But you can’t always trust what other employees say about your attitude because they may not be telling the truth over fears of rocking the boat. Fergus sounds like a problem but there’s nothing wrong with the occasional dose of light sugar. You don’t want your staff feeling dread at the sight of you walking towards them. Also praise for a job well done goes a long way.

  58. Dr. Pepper*

    Celebrate your good fortune! Not only have you been promoted, your biggest problem has shown himself the door! Hurray!

    No, seriously. This is a time for happy dances, not hand wringing over whatever you might have done wrong. Managing him would have been a huge pain in the butt, as many others have mentioned. You may have had to fire him, and now you don’t have to worry about him at all. What concerns me is that you appear to be taking this personally, and you’re concerned about being liked. Don’t and don’t. Some of your reports may not like you, and that’s fine, they don’t have to like you. You don’t even have to like them. Maintaining appropriate and effective workplace relationships doesn’t (or shouldn’t) depend on anyone’s personal feelings about anyone else. You’re working together, not getting married. It’s nice if everyone likes each other, but all that really matters is if everyone can work together. Don’t take things personally, and don’t make things personal. It sounds like you have the latter down, but you may need to work on the former. So Fergus didn’t want to work for you. So what? That’s his prerogative, and frankly what he thinks of you is none of your business. Be polite and professional to him while he works out his notice and wish him well when he leaves. Then jump for joy because that’s one problem you no longer have.

  59. 0101010*

    Totally stunned at some of these responses!

    I started to write a detailed response but was like, actually, if OP doesn’t get it nor other commentators then I can’t be bothered.

    I will just summarise it as this:
    This is not automatically a gender issue: this is a people are humans and humans are all different thing.
    If OP thinks that one relationship management approach should apply to all, and everyone should be super pals and attempts to orchestrate them into doing when they are present there’s much bigger issues here despite what ever good intentions there might have been.

    Personally, As a socially capable introvert I think OP sounds insufferable and overbearing. Let the poor guy have a lunch break free from everyone’s else expectation and disappointment! I imagine that it’s a nice respite from feeling the crippling self doubt of being aware you are failing a junior level new job and everyone else knows it.

    1. Aurion*

      OP invited the coworker out for coffee. That’s not everyone’s thing, sure, but it’s not an overstep or wanting everybody to be super pals. The coworker was demonstrably incompetent at his job and belligerent on top of that, which is the kiss of death.

      OP was friendly with everyone, and she attempted to be friendly with the coworker. She gave the coworker feedback the same way she gave feedback to everyone else…coworker was just the only one who was incompetent and combative about it. I really don’t see why you think the OP was being insufferable.

    2. Kay*

      0101010, I had the same reaction. I could see myself in his shoes, and the story reminded me of a coworker who would pick at everything we do. I’m sure the letter writer is telling the whole truth on his capabilities and all. But I remember at work, I just wanted to blow off steam and leave the office for a bit to let go of the humiliation I felt all day. I don’t think that is a bad thing if someone doesn’t make office friends.

  60. anontoday*

    Have you considered that Fergus may be the kind of person who keeps his professional life separate from his private life? You wrote:
    “I got a lot of great feedback and became fast friends with my boss and colleagues.”
    “I made an effort to invite him to events outside of work, and invited him to coffees with our other colleagues, in the hopes that being friends could improve our working relationship”
    Being fast friends with colleagues may work for you but it’s not for everybody. Socializing with colleagues outside work isn’t for everybody either. Your friendly invitations may be perceived as overbearing and overstepping boundaries.

    In this case it sounds like Fergus had performance issues and was unsuited for this role so maybe it’s for the best he left.

    1. Your friendly neighbourhood letter writer*

      Hi, maybe I didn’t word that right. We weren’t, like, doing each other’s nails and gossiping at sleepovers or anything like that, but we were comfortable with each other and would go for coffees maybe once or twice a month. I was trying to illustrate that after a while at the company, Fergus didn’t even seem comfortable with us as colleagues, let alone being friends on a personal level. I probably could have illustrated that divide better. But he did come out (we have a mutual interest so it made sense) and it seemed like he was having a good time, only to go back to being hot and cold at work. If he said he didn’t want to come, I definitely wouldn’t have pushed.

      1. anontoday*

        I think I see what you mean. In that case maybe he was frustrated with you not as a person but because you did well and you fitted in and he didn’t. I guess it was just a bad fit and there was nothing you could have done differently. He’ll probably do better somewhere else.

  61. Afiendishthingy*

    Fergus did you a favor. He would have been a nightmare as your employee. Congratulations on your promotion!

  62. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    I am not clear on the OP’s role of providing feedback on, and critiquing, the work of her peers. Is that a normal part of the work process, for OP to comment on everyone else’s work? Does OP have official authority over the content of her peers’ work? Did Fergus’s boss make OP’s authority clear to Fergus? It sounds like Fergus had a strong negative reaction (resistance) to receiving OP’s feedback, but if OP had authority over that work product content, that resistance should have been addressed by Fergus’s boss, actually. In any event, it also sounds like Fergus had a problem with the general quality of his work product.

    1. Observer*

      The OP states in the letter that it was part of her (and everyone else’s) job to provide critique and feedback. A comment clarifies some more.

  63. Ted*

    Az one of the commenter said, this story doesn’t really add up. How does one person in a junior position given the role and “authority” to critique and comment on another person in a junior role…?

    Have to admit I did not read all the 100+ answers, but I noticed many people quickly jumped into conclusions and made negative comments about Fergus. As they say, every story has two sides. Before jumping into conclusions, I’d love to hear Fergus’ side of the story. I’m willing to bet the reactions in the comment might be different…

    1. Not So NewReader*

      In paragraph two, OP says that feedback was part of the job.
      Yes, they both had junior roles but Fergus started a little after OP and OP caught on very fast.
      Of course there are two sides to every story. But Fergus was moody/angry and he made the same mistakes repeatedly despite OP’s inputs.
      If OP was a problem, Fergus could have spoken to OP or spoken to their mutual boss.

      Actually, I think if Fergus wrote in he might have been told that this job was just not for him. Perhaps he found the people intimidating. Perhaps he did not understand the job or he could not pick up speed. I think people here would have cited stories out of their own lives where they were simply in the wrong job. They would have given him advice on what to do when he felt he might lose his temper at work. And they would have given him general tips for getting into the swing of the job if he asked.

    2. Antilles*

      How does one person in a junior position given the role and “authority” to critique and comment on another person in a junior role…?
      This is actually super-common and happens in all sorts of ways.
      1.) OP mentioned she had previous experience in the industry. Even though that might not have gotten her a better starting title, that certainly might give her credibility to review someone else’s work.
      2.) OP said she was catching on very fast. In this situation, it’s entirely reasonable to ask OP “hey, can you take a look at John’s work and try to teach him?”…and part of that role is to find errors in his work and attempt to teach him how to fix them. And if John just isn’t getting it, OP is then obligated to lay it out to her boss that “okay, so John seems to be really struggling with X; I’ve tried these things, but I’m just not sure about it.”
      3.) Even in a hypothetical situation where they’re completely and totally equal, it’s commonplace to have staff members review and critique another’s work to make sure it’s correct and clear. And from there, it’s pretty common to have a manager ask “hey, what did you think about Steve’s report yesterday?”.

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